by Asen Balikci

Visual anthro­pol­o­gy start­ed with the legacy of Boas and the grand design of estab­lish­ing etho­graph­ic records, truth­ful records of endur­ing value, with the help of modern tech­no­log­i­cal aids. It con­tin­ued with Mar­garet Mead and the use of film as an inte­gral part of any anthro­po­log­i­cal research Pro­gramme. At the present time, ethno­graph­ic film is made for audi­ences which have grown increas­ing­ly large. The anthro­pol­o­gist has also changed voca­tion: in the begin­ning he con­sid­ered him­self merely an objec­tive recorder; he later came to think of him­self as an ana­lyt­i­cal sci­en­tist; now, he, or she, is only too painful­ly aware of the danger of becom­ing an uncon­scious ide­o­log­i­cal manipulator. 

Today, it seems that some for­mats and approach­es suffer from neglect. There are no new projects sim­i­lar in scope to the Bush­men, Yanomamo or Net­si­lik series. The tra­di­tion of pro­longed involve­ment in a single cul­ture area seems to have been lost, at least tem­porar­i­ly. There are very few attempts to use the camera in anthro­po­log­i­cal field research. The Smith­son­ian and Göt­tin­gen film archives are rarely con­sult­ed for ana­lyt­ic pur­pos­es. Although much exper­i­men­tal film­ing is going on there is a painful feel­ing that present­ly nobody can do better than Gard­ner’s mythopotics, Mac­Dougal­l’s obser­va­tion­al genre of LIewe­lyn-Davies’ reflex­ive style. The highly suc­cess­ful tele­vi­sion format in Britain does not seem to be stim­u­lat­ed by much exper­i­men­tal work. In a sense, tele­vi­sion here seems to be in com­pe­ti­tion with noth­ing more than itself. 

Visual anthro­pol­o­gy how­ev­er is still in its infan­cy, trying hard to estab­lish its epis­te­mo­log­i­cal valid­i­ty. It should not be per­ceived as being in com­pe­ti­tion with main­stream ana­lyt­i­cal anthro­pol­o­gy; rather, it should be seen as com­ple­men­tary and its prac­ti­tion­ers should see to make the best pos­si­ble use of its par­tic­u­lar Poten­tial for under­stand­ing the human con­di­tion. New approach­es and new fields of inter­est are cur­rent­ly being devel­oped, such as anthro­po­log­i­cal analy­ses of fea­ture and doc­u­men­tary films. The study of pop­u­lar imagery or the exam­i­na­tion of native aes­thet­ic styles. Third World insti­tu­tions assem­ble video records of minor­i­ty cul­tures with the direct help of indige­nous groups con­cerned about cul­tur­al preser­va­tion. Encap­su­lat­ed soci­eties increas­ing­ly con­sid­er video-making as the start­ing point of ethnic self-asser­tion and polit­i­cal lib­er­a­tion. Visual anthro­pol­o­gists are becom­ing involved in a vari­ety of devel­op­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tion projects relat­ed to agri­cul­ture, non-formal edu­ca­tion, health, etc., aris­ing from the need to accel­er­ate the cir­cu­la­tion of Infor­ma­tion at the Com­mu­ni­ty level. These newly cre­at­ed media envi­ron­ments will all hope­ful­ly be sub­mit­ted to anthro­po­log­i­cal scruti­ny. All these are new activ­i­ties that are being added to the estab­lished place of ethno­graph­ic film-making within the sub-dis­ci­pline of Visual anthropology.

Yet the future of Visual anthro­pol­o­gy depends not only on new ideas but also on new insti­tu­tion­al devel­op­ments such as the Grana­da Centre for Visual Anthro­pol­o­gy. From my recent trav­els around Europe, (…), I have learned that the Man­ches­ter Centre is already being con­sid­ered as a model insti­tu­tion to be repli­cat­ed in sev­er­al Euro­pean coun­tries. (…) One can only hope that this new set­ting, based on what some would once have regard­ed as an unholy alliance between aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions and tele­vi­sion, will allow and pro­vide for bold exper­i­men­ta­tion with new for­mats and styles, new ideas and new fields of enquiry, all so nec­es­sary to the future of Visual anthropology.”

(Auszug aus: Anthro­pol­o­gy, Film and the Arctic People; !n:Anthropology Today; Vol. 5, No 2; April ’89, p. 4 - 10}